Important South African Paintings, Furniture, Silver, Ceramics and Glass

Live Auction, 7 March 2011

  • Irma Stern; Still Life of Roses and Apples

Lot Estimate
ZAR 7 000 000 - 9 000 000

About this Item

South African 1894-1966
Still Life of Roses and Apples

signed and dated 1944

oil on canvas
61 by 61cm excluding frame


Roses and apples are both traditionally associated with love and beauty. When asked to choose the most beautiful amongst Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, Paris of Troy awarded the apple to Aphrodite. Consequently, the ancient Greeks considered the apple sacred. To throw an apple to someone, furthermore, symbolised the declaration of love; and similarly, to catch it symbolised one's acceptance of that love.

However, none of this would have occupied the artist as much as the sheer physicality of the objects which she had selected – the sensuous colour, form and perfume of the roses and the texture and tempting taste of the apples. And that is what she is able to convey most palpably to us, the viewers.

The sheer exuberance of the objects filling the format and the energy of her swift and fluid brushstrokes confirms that Stern was at the height of her powers. As leading academic, art critic and former Director of the Irma Stern Museum, Neville Dubow, maintained:
The point is simply this: in the period between the First and Second World Wars, Irma Stern’s work achieved a peak of excellence that could stand comparison with representational paintings anywhere else in the West. ... judged purely by the yardstick of dynamic painting – perceptual and sensual, rather than conceptual and intellectual, sheer picture-making, in fact – one could claim international stature for her work of the 1940s. Nationally ... there was no one to touch her in terms of her impact on the local scene.i

i Neville Dubow, Irma Stern, C. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, 1974, p 20.


Sotheby's, London, Topographical Paintings, Watercolours, Drawings and Prints, 23 November, 1995, lot 239

Private collection

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